Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s own words were the linchpin in the case against him, his quotes cited more than 20 times in a federal judge’s ruling that found him guilty of criminal contempt of court.
In a verdict filed Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said evidence demonstrated Arpaio’s “flagrant disregard” for another federal judge’s order that halted his signature immigration round-ups.
The sentencing phase will begin Oct. 5. Arpaio, 85, faces up to six months in confinement, a sentence equivalent to that of a misdemeanor.
In what has become customary in judgments against Arpaio, Bolton liberally inserted the lawman’s public remarks, mostly issued through news releases and media clips, to support her opinion.
“Credible testimony shows that the Defendant knew of the order and what the order meant in regards to the MCSO’s policy of detaining persons who did not have state charges for turnover to ICE for civil immigration violations,” the ruling read.
“Despite this knowledge, (the) Defendant broadcast to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue ‘what he had always been doing.’
The verdict is a rejection of Arpaio’s defense: That the order was unclear and that, although mistakes had been made, the violations were unintended. Willful intent is required to prove criminal contempt rather than civil contempt.
Reached for comment on Monday, Arpaio deferred most questions to his attorneys but confirmed that he was surprised by the outcome.
“We presented a great case,” he said.
Arpaio’s attorneys issued a statement Monday saying he will appeal the ruling and will continue to press for a jury trial.
— Megan Cassidy (@meganrcassidy) July 31, 2017
The statement went on to echo the argument Arpaio’s attorneys repeatedly turned to in court — that U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow’s order was too ambiguous to be understood and, therefore, followed.
“Joe Arpaio is in this for the long haul,” the statement concluded. “And he will continue to fight to vindicate himself, to prove his innocence, and to protect the public.”
Arpaio attorney Jack Wilenchik said the team will be arguing the jury issue “amongst many other things.”
“The verdict’s completely contrary to the evidence,” he said. “Just because another judge in the same court says that it is (that the order was clear) does not mean that it is as a matter of law.”
Monday’s decision caps the latest chapter in a decadelong racial-profiling case that began after allegations that Arpaio’s deputies were targeting Latinos during their immigration-enforcement operations.
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Arpaio’s office was known as the “tip of the spear” that would enforce the state’s hard-line immigration efforts. Its crackdowns included “pretextual” traffic stops to net those in the country illegally and patrol sweeps that zeroed in on Hispanic neighborhoods.
Many of those taken into custody were not accused of violating a state crime but only of living in the country illegally. Once they were detained, deputies would turn over the individuals to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol officials, who would initiate deportation proceedings.
The intent was to essentially act as another arm of the federal government, which has exclusive power to enforce civil-immigration violations.
Snow presided over the civil case, ruling in 2013 Arpaio’s office had racially profiled.
At the time, the ruling seemed to signal the end of a costly county battle with civil-rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
But the case continued to expand as the Sheriff’s Office struggled to implement mandated reforms, and as allegations of the office violating Snow’s orders began to cement.
In 2015, Snow ordered a civil trial of sorts to determine whether Arpaio’s office had violated three separate orders. Two centered on allegations that the department had failed to turn over evidence in case, and the third on whether Arpaio had violated a 2011 preliminary injunction that barred deputies from detaining migrants not suspected of a crime.
Last year, Snow found Arpaio and three aides guilty of civil contempt. He then referred Arpaio, two aides and a former attorney for criminal contempt charges, though federal prosecutors opted to only pursue Arpaio, and to charge him only on the preliminary injunction violation.
The proceedings lasted four days in June, and closing arguments were heard July 6. It was Arpaio’s first major court appearance since his decisive defeat to Paul Penzone in November’s election.
They showcased news releases, media clips and old depositions to try to demonstrate Arpaio was more interested in burnishing his political reputation than following a judge’s orders.
Arpaio’s hard-line immigration platform was popular with conservatives throughout the country, and he faced re-election in 2012.
In the clips and news releases, Arpaio is quoted — after the injunction — as saying that he will continue to enforce state and federal immigration law.
In one particularly potent clip, Arpaios is seen talking to an inmate at his jails, who states that Arpaio is outranked by federal law.
“No,” Arpaio said. “Nobody is higher than me. I am the elected sheriff by the people. I don’t serve any governor or the president.”
Federal trial attorney John Keller said Arpaio’s words show that he was willfully defiant of Snow’s order.
“He didn’t care about the federal court injunction,” Keller said. “That wasn’t going to stop him from running his office the way he saw fit.”
The prosecutors’ strategy seemed to track well with Bolton, who also used Arpaio’s quotes liberally throughout her ruling. She cited various televised interviews with Arpaio, one in which he bragged he would “never give in to control by the federal government.”
Defense: Judge’s original order was unclear
Arpaio’s defense attorneys instead argued that Snow’s order left room for interpretation. For an individual to be found in criminal contempt, the judge’s order must be “clear and definite.”
Defense attorney Dennis Wilenchik pointed out how numerous people in the Sheriff’s Office seemed confused about the order.
“The only one who understood what Judge Snow meant was Judge Snow himself,” he said.
Another key defense strategy involved shifting blame to Tim Casey, Arpaio’s former defense attorney.
Dennis Wilenchik said Casey neglected to follow up on training scenarios that would have clarified the order.
Casey had testified earlier that he had explained the order several times, and that Arpaio had assured him the office already wasn’t doing the things the order prohibited.
Ultimately, Dennis Wilenchik had said, there was “not one shred of evidence” that Arpaio had intentionally defied the judge.
Bolton dismissed the defense’s attempt to muddy the water. She found that Snow’s order was, in fact, “clear and definite” and that “this conclusion does not require looking beyond the plain words of the order.”
She added that delegating the order to Arpaio’s subordinates was no excuse for the violation.
“Willful ignorance of a court order which a person has knowledge of and a duty to fulfill does not excuse non-compliance therewith,” she said.
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Immigrant-rights group Puente Human Rights Movement praises a federal judge’s ruling finding Sheriff Joe Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt of court. Sam Caravana/azcentral.com
Reactions among Arpaio’s friends and foes split predictably after the verdict was released.
Civil-rights advocates saw the decision as a long-awaited comeuppance. Arpaio’s supporters panned the outcome as political assassination.
“This is kind of the final nail in the coffin,” said Cecillia Wang, a deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union and plaintiffs’ attorney for the civil end of the case. “There was a time when Arpaio ran around the county like he owned the place. It’s a final reminder to Arpaio that he’s not above the law and never was.”
The news of the guilty ruling left Viridiana Hernandez with mixed emotions — among them surprise, relief and gratitude.
The west Phoenix community leader said her father’s workplace was raided by the Sheriff’s Office in 2014 and, while he wasn’t arrested, the family feared his address and other personal information was collected by deputies.
Hernandez said her family was “traumatized” by the former sheriff.
Hernandez, who was a board member of the Bazta Arpaio campaign organized against the sheriff’s re-election bid, said the community groups that challenged Arpaio’s policies must continue to push back against his legacy.
“This man created this culture, not only within MCSO, but also in local police departments. And it’s still a fight that we have to continue to fight, but this is a good win,” she said.
In a statement, immigrant-rights group Puente Human Rights Movement called the guilty ruling “historic.”
Carlos Garcia, director of Puente, called on Sheriff Paul Penzone to undo a vestige of Arpaio’s 23-year tenure: the presence of ICE agents who screen people during the booking process at the Fourth Avenue Jail for those arrested countywide.
“As long as ICE is in the jails, Arpaio is still in control,” Garcia said. “True justice will be served when Sheriff Penzone ends all collaboration with ICE and finally breaks with the legacy of Sheriff Arpaio.”
The group later held a press conference where about 30 people gathered and several spoke to offer similar reactions.
Meanwhile, the National Center for Police Defense issued a statement calling the verdict a “travesty of justice.” James Fotis, the center’s president, told The Arizona Republic earlier this year that the organization had donated about $300,000 to Arpaio’s legal defense.
“As I sat in the courtroom and listened to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s trial, I knew any reasonable man or woman who was there to pass judgment on this honest, law abiding man who gave his life to the rule of law could never find him guilty on the evidence presented,” Fotis said in a statement.
“Judge Bolton’s ruling has caused me to lose my faith in the court system and the federal judicial system. Had Sheriff Joe been judged by a jury of his peers, no reasonable man or woman could have possibly found America’s Toughest Sheriff guilty.”
Jerry Sheridan, Arpaio’s former chief deputy, said he was saddened by the verdict.
“The Sheriff Joe I know and worked with is an honest, law-abiding lawman,” he said. “I never witnessed one unethical action on his part in all of the years I worked alongside him. He did not deliberately violate any court order, and now, for a judge to find him guilty of this is a tragedy. In fact, no MCSO personnel intentionally violated the judge’s order.”
Arpaio in Maricopa County Jail?
Though many on social media mused about a sentence in what were once his own jails, that scenario seems improbable.
Should Arpaio be sentenced to incarceration, U.S. marshals in Arizona would be responsible for arresting him and placing him in custody.
“Traditionally, short-term sentence prisoners who are not going to be part of the Bureau of Prison systems are handled individually by the U.S. Marshals Office,” said U.S. Marshal David Gonzales.
Gonzales said the marshals contract with several local and private facilities, and that typically a short-term federal prisoner isn’t housed in Maricopa County jails.
Although Arpaio officially faces as many as six months of incarceration, many legal experts say even that is unlikely.
“I’d say the likelihood of Sheriff Arpaio spending six months in jail are slim to none,” said Paul Charlton, former U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona. The tougher question, Charlton said, is whether Arpaio will get any jail time.
“The arguments on both sides are compelling,” he said. “On the one hand, you have a significant number of lives altered and destroyed because of Joe Arpaio’s misconduct.
“On the other hand, you have an aging octogenarian who has otherwise lived a life without any criminal conviction, and served his whole career in law enforcement. That makes it very difficult for a judge.”
Republic reporter Laura Gómez contributed to this story.